As Prime Minister of the UK, Boris Johnson should be above marshalling the sinister side of tin-pot patriotism as he tries to deliver Brexit – “do or die” – by 31 October.
“Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” John F Kennedy’s appeal to patriotic sentiment still resonates 58 years after his famous inauguration speech because it speaks of the best aspects of national pride, of how, by working together for the common good, we can achieve great things.
Yesterday, Boris Johnson plumbed the depths of the worst aspects when he accused MPs attempting to prevent his Government from railroading the UK into a no-deal Brexit of a “terrible kind of collaboration” with the European Union.
Collaboration is a word which has different meanings because of its different associations. It can mean something entirely benign, as in between artists. But, as Johnson well knows, it is also used to describe traitors who help an occupying enemy army during a war.
Johnson did not appear to be claiming that MPs opposed to a no-deal were actively collaborating by, for example, holding secret meetings with the EU, as he went on to say that the more the EU thought there was “a chance that Brexit can be blocked in Parliament, the more adamant they are in sticking to their position”. So, according to the Prime Minister, the mere act of seeking to prevent a no-deal Brexit – because of the real concern it will cause serious damage to the UK economy – is worthy of being described as “collaboration”, a word that most dictionaries will tell you carries the potential meaning of “treason”.
Ex-Chancellor Philip Hammond is a leading member of those MPs who are sensible enough to try to stand up to Johnson. For this, he was the target of an utterly outrageous and factually incorrect slur by a “senior” 10 Downing Street source, who told the Times “everyone knows” that Hammond’s “real objective was to cancel the referendum result”.
In a tweet responding to the claim, Hammond wrote: “Wrong. I want to deliver Brexit – and voted to do so three times. But ‘No Deal’ is a far cry from the highly optimistic vision presented by the Leave campaign – and there is no mandate for it.”
Without naming Hammond, knowing everyone would make the connection, Johnson then added his own condemnation, pitched at a dog-whistle frequency but audible to most humans.
As JFK showed, patriotism can be a force for good. But, perhaps realising the weakness of his position, Johnson appears willing to unleash its dangerous side in a most disgraceful way.